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Misfiring Milan retain confidence

Published: Wednesday 25 February 2004, 0.55CET
Despite failing to score on their visit to AC Sparta Praha, AC Milan coach and players are sure of progress.
Published: Wednesday 25 February 2004, 0.55CET

Misfiring Milan retain confidence

Despite failing to score on their visit to AC Sparta Praha, AC Milan coach and players are sure of progress.

By Kevin Ashby in Prague

Ahead of the first leg of the UEFA Champions League knockout tie against AC Sparta Praha, AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko said he felt energised by the Rossoneri's weekend defeat of FC Internazionale. Sadly for the Ukrainian, that energy was more of the nervous type tonight as he missed a number of openings in a goalless draw.

Scoring problem
In fairness to Shevchenko, he found Sparta goalkeeper Jaromír Blazek in customary fine form, something the Czech international will have to continue if his side are to eliminate the holders in the San Siro on 10 March. Should Sparta score in normal time, however, Milan will have to do something they have not done for ten Champions League games - score more than once.

Luck missing
"I'm not worried," said Milan midfield player Clarence Seedorf. "It is disappointing that we haven't won as we were the better side but we are all confident that we can win at home." His coach, Carlo Ancelotti, agreed, saying: "I'm very satisfied with our performance, particularly in the second half when we created more chances than them and would have won with a bit more luck with our shooting. I think we will reach the quarter-finals."

Trademark ruthlessness
Ancelotti watched his side overturn a 2-0 half-time deficit against Inter on Saturday, Jon Dahl Tomasson, Kaká and Seedorf salvaging three points for the Serie A leaders. The Dane hurt his leg in the fixture, meaning Filippo Inzaghi stepped up from the bench after overcoming injury. The Italy striker registered 12 times in this competition last season, yet lacked his trademark ruthlessness at times tonight.

Tone set
Twice Inzaghi was denied a clear run on goal by superb tackles by Vladimír Labant and Petr Johana. When Inzaghi did break off his shackles in the 19th minute, Blazek smothered his shot from close range. The keeper had earlier prevented Shevchenko from getting a shot off at the end of Milan's first move of the match, setting the tone for the following 88 minutes.

Best save
The pick of a number of superb stops came just after the hour when the 31-year-old dived low to his right to tip away a Giuseppe Pancaro header bound for the bottom-left corner. "It showed that I couldn't just be concerned with Inzaghi and Shevchenko," said the goalkeeper. "All of Milan's outfield players pose a threat."

'Extra motivation'
Blazek was criticised by the Italian media for his performance in Italy's 2-2 draw against the Czech Republic last week, something which backfired for those journalists of a Milanese bent. "It made me angry and gave me extra motivation to play well tonight," he said.

Tireless workers
Sparta played with confidence throughout, Tomáš Hübschman and Johana excelling in central defence and Pavel Pergl ever keen to push forward from right-back. The defender had Sparta's first shot of the night although it was Karel Poborský who most often tested Dida along with Lukáš Zelenka.

'Great experience'
"Milan are a better side than any we played in the group stage and so it is a great experience for my players," said Sparta coach Jirí Kotrba. "If we were going to draw then 0-0 was ideal and we're not out of contention in this tie at all. Milan will have to be very careful." The holders have been warned.

Amstel Man of the Match: Andriy Shevchenko
Milan's Andriy Shevchenko has been selected as the Amstel Man of the Match voted by uefa.com users. Shevchenko was in the right place at the right time often enough to garner 23 per cent of the vote.

Last updated: 25/02/04 10.47CET

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